VIU English professor explores inter-cultural dialogue with play collaboration

VIU English Professor Dr. Nelson Gray recently published a unique collaboration with renowned Métis playwright Marie Clements./VIU Photo

Dr. Nelson Gray and renowned Métis playwright Marie Clements tackle one storyline from two different perspectives

How we perceive the world through our cultural beliefs can vary so much that if two people are asked to recount the same event, the result can be two radically different stories.

That is certainly true in Vancouver Island University (VIU) English Professor Dr. Nelson Gray’s latest published project – a collaboration with renowned Métis playwright Marie Clements in which both wrote a one-act play based on the same plot line, but from two different perspectives. Talker’s Town and The Girl Who Swam Forever are both about a Katzie girl who escapes from Residential School, with Gray telling the story from the perspective of a non-Indigenous boy whose friend is involved with the girl, and Clements telling the girl’s story.

“Reading both plays back to back is like going through the looking glass,” says Gray. “They offer two distinct histories and two different ways of perceiving the world, in a mutually respectful way.”

The collaboration started two decades ago, but the plays have now appeared together in a joint publication through Talonbooks. Gray, along with Crystal Burnip – a recent VIU First Nations Studies graduate – presented on this unique collaboration at the Arts and Humanities Colloquium Series in March of this year, and, several weeks later, at the Earth Matters on Stage Symposium at the University of Alaska in Anchorage. 

“There are two very different histories in this country, and they both need to be recognized and respected for their differences. I think that’s why it’s important for them to come out now,” says Gray. “It’s being published when the desire for reconciliation is very much in the air.” 

The impetus for Talker’s Town stemmed from a traumatic experience from Gray’s youth, when he was involved in a car accident that took the life of a non-Indigenous girl and injured two others from the nearby Katzie reserve. Years later, Gray began researching the history and culture of the Katzie people, and, eventually, returned to his home town in Pitt Meadows to connect with people on the reserve.

As Gray started writing the story, he found that he was struggling to write from the perspective of the girl fleeing Residential School. That’s when he asked Clements for her help. When Clements, after trying to find the girl’s voice, began to feel “ghettoized in a white guy’s play,” Gray commissioned her to write her own play, based on the same events, from the Katzie girl’s point of view.

What Clements came up with astonished him. 

“She portrays all the characters and events through the perspective of the girl, and she also weaves elements of Katzie mythology and their creation story into it,” says Gray. “Her play let me see something that had been there all along that I hadn’t known about, something that was so fundamentally different than the experience I had growing up in that place.” 

Looking forward, Gray, who spent many years writing and directing for the stage before coming to VIU 10 years ago, is writing the script and libretto for Here Oceans Roar, a contemporary eco-opera incorporating oceanographic research and based on his experiences working as a skipper on a West Coast salmon troller.

“After doing it for several years, I realized I was more of an artist than a fisherman, and I also saw that the salmon numbers were declining,” says Gray. “That was the start of my interest in literature that explores the relationship between our human world and the natural world.”

This fall, to share this interest with his students, Gray is teaching Literature and the Environment: Scenes from the Anthropocene, a course dedicated to studying what literature can reveal to us about our relationship to the natural world.

“The Anthropocene is the current geological age we are in, in recognition of the phenomenal impact human beings are having on the planet as a whole,” Gray explains. “We’ll look at plays and films where the natural world is a major player in some form. We’re moving into a different kind of consciousness and these plays are part of the work being done to reframe our thinking about humanity and its place in the world.”

For more information, visit VIU English’s Featured Courses list.

VIU program aids students with disabilities

VIU's incoming CETP program was inspired in part by a similar offering which benefited VIU alumni Natalie Parfitt. She now successfully operates her own dog sitting and walking company.
VIU photo

0730 - Vancouver Island University is launching a new program to help students with disabilities make their entrepreneurship goals become reality.

Provincial funding has allowed VIU to establish the Co-operative Entrepreneur Training Program (CETP) in October at the school's Nanaimo campus. VIU stated in a news release the pilot program to be offered to 12 participants is aimed at creating self-employment careers which create a better fit for those with mental or physical disabilities.

Tanya Assaf, VIU instructor and chair of the Workplace Essential Skills and Training Program, stated in a news release the program is designed to find and showcase hidden talents.


VIU trains First Nations in resource management

The First Nations Stewardship Technicians Training Program has taught Harold Glendale and Angela Davidson skills they use every day in their roles as guardians with Da’naxda’xw/Awaetlala First Nation. Photo: Vancouver Island University

 0706 - A unique program at Vancouver Island University (VIU) is helping First Nations communities monitor their lands and waters.

The First Nations Stewardship Technicians Training Program provides specialized training to work in resource management. Designed and developed in partnership with First Nations communities in response to a growing desire to increase capacity in natural resource management, the courses are delivered in-community over a two-year period in one-week sessions. This format allows participants to continue working while they go through the program.

Harold Glendale, a Senior Guardian for Da’naxda’xw/Awaetlala First Nation in the Alert Bay/Knight Inlet region, uses the skills he learned in the program daily in his job. His job includes surveying fish, shellfish and vegetation populations; interacting with the public, either to make sure they are obeying the laws or staying out of danger; or documenting sites of historical importance to his Nation, such as ancient burial or hunting grounds. 

“My favourite part of the job is being able to go out in my territory every day, learning everything I should be learning about my people,” says Glendale.


VIU artists participate in the Temporary Public Art Program

Photo Caption: Visual Arts student Ben Sopow installed a metal sculpture in Maffeo Sutton Park in May.– VIU Photo

0621 - For many student artists, going from the private process of making art in a studio to displaying a finished piece in a public space is a big step. 

 A Vancouver Island University (VIU) Visual Arts student has taken the leap from the classroom to the park this year with one of his sculptures on display at Maffeo Sutton Park as part of the City of Nanaimo’s Temporary Public Art Program

 Every year, the city transforms this high-traffic park into an outdoor art gallery, and Ben Sopow’s aluminum and Plexiglas piece, Everything Happens So Much, is among the 11 pieces of art on display over the next year for community members and visitors from around the world to enjoy.

 “I’m really happy with the way it turned out,” says Sopow. “It is satisfying to apply the skills I learned as a VIU student to realize this project in the larger community of Nanaimo.”

 Sopow taught art and other subjects to elementary school children for 30 years and spent his summers painting landscapes. A desire to hone his art skills brought him to VIU when he retired a decade ago. 

 “What really draws me about the Visual Arts Program is the community that is formed in these studio art classes,” says Sopow, who is also involved with the University’s Peer Supervised Learning program as a physics tutor and the Outdoor Recreation Outrigger Canoe Racing Team. “You’ll spend hours and hours in the studio with other students finishing projects. The emphasis is really on honing your art-making skills. The University also builds career into the instruction, and provides opportunities to participate in real exhibits.”

 This isn’t Sopow’s first experience with public art. Thanks in part to mentorship from his instructors, including Visual Arts Professor Jason Gress, he’s already had artwork displayed at the Port Theatre, Milner Gardens, the Natural History Museum and Literacy Central Vancouver Island, where he is a member of the board.  

Through a directed studies course, Sopow was mentored by Gress on every step in the process of getting his piece in the Temporary Public Art Program, from concept and submitting the proposal, to producing his vision, which was more difficult than he expected. For example, in order for the aluminum to be cut with a water jet, Sopow had to enlist the help of a friend with graphic design experience to create a digital file of his project.

“What struck me about this project was the collaboration needed to complete it – at times I was more like a project manager,” he says.

Gress says having a student conceive of and produce a public art project as part of a course, and then having that art exist in the public domain for an extended period of time is unique. In fact, Sopow is the first Visual Arts student to participate in the Temporary Public Art Program.

“This project represents a deep connection between VIU Visual Arts students and the wider community,” he says. “Also, because the work is being displayed at Maffeo Sutton Park, it’s likely that visitors from all over the world will get to experience Ben’s artwork.”

Everything Happens So Much is a square sculpture featuring four colours in four different quadrants, which Sopow says represents diversity and balance in the world. 

“It’s a reflection of me, the optimist,” he explains. “To me, 7.2 billion people getting along together every day is a miracle. Compared to everything else that’s going on in the world, war, crime and violence is only a small part of the human story. 

Sopow’s design is not the only VIU connection in the City’s Temporary Public Art program this year – also on display is work by Welding alumni Sheldon Murphy and Heather Wall, and Graphic Design alum Laura Timmermans, who co-produced a piece with her brother, Michael, who is a current VIU student in the Bachelor of Business Administration program.

Chris Barfoot, the City’s Culture and Heritage Coordinator, says the strong VIU connection was not the intention of the program, but it seems to be happening naturally 

“We’re really grateful for the opportunities the program is creating for local artists, and bringing the artwork produced at VIU downtown is just a win-win for everybody,” he says.

For more information, visit the Visual Arts homepage. To view this press release online, visit VIU News.


Retiring Provost Dave Witty reflects on years at VIU

Dave Witty

-0614 - Dr. David Witty, outgoing Provost and Vice-President Academic at Vancouver Island University (VIU), knew he was blessed in his new role as he traveled on the ferry one day eight years ago to visit VIU’s Powell River Campus. 

 There were a few reasons he felt that way. The first and most obvious was the breath-taking scenery. The second was what it meant to be traveling to a community the size of Powell River (population approximately 13,000) for the reason he was going: to introduce himself as the new Provost of the newly-minted University and to lay out the consultation process for gathering their feedback of what should be included in the future academic plan. The significance of it was profound for him; a community this small had access to university-level education.

“It struck me as something very special,” Witty reflects. “Over time, I also came to understand that what we do at VIU is something special. Open access education isn’t just a concept we talk about to feel good about our work – it’s a mandate we deliver that changes lives.”   

Witty has faithfully served VIU’s mandate as a new university with a responsibility to its region for the last eight years. As Provost and Vice President, he was tasked with supporting the academic planning for the institution. Dr. Witty was the right person to lead that planning process. The Academic Plan that resulted from his efforts has been one of the strongest pieces of our integrated planning process and is where many important parts of our identity as an institution live.” These include VIU’s mission, vision, values and institutional purpose. 

VIU’s academic plan is now in its second iteration because almost all the objectives in the first were reached. The objectives were broad, but the resulting work was specific with tangible results. Regular and rigorous review of academic programs through the initiation of a Summative Program Assessment has also been a key development in ensuring academic quality oversight is consistent and meets the standards set by the University Senate.

Witty will be the very first to say that this work was across the institution and led by many different people. It is all part of the growth and evolution of VIU as a university  and has meant there have been many celebrations over the years. He points out that he has learned a great deal from the First Nation and Metis communities in their commitment to education and the role VIU should play in providing access to excellence.

“I do a lot of traveling and meeting with colleagues from other institutions. Every time I do this I find myself feeling so proud of what we have accomplished here. The creativity of the faculty we have to make any goal a reality, despite issues like funding restraints, is almost magic because it has created so much positive change over the years,” Witty says. “I tell students, and I truly believe, we are the best bang for your buck. We are very good at what we do and provide our students with an education they can actually make a living with.”

Recognition is now coming from outside about the quality of this education. MCP Director Dr. Pam Shaw recently received a 3M National Teaching Fellowship, a rare award given only to the very best in post-secondary teaching in Canada. VIU was just named a finalist for the Higher Education Academy’s 2018 Global Excellence in Teaching Award – one of only 17 institutions among hundreds of applicants from 41 countries. 

“VIU has something special and is being recognized as a leader in teaching and learning. I think it is recognition that what we have is special. What other university can truly say they champion open access, truth and reconciliation, international education, trades and applied technology as well as pure academia and experiential learning?” says Liesel Knaack, Director of the Centre for Innovation and Excellence in Learning.

“David has contributed to the University and the communities it serves in many and varied ways. He has been a key contributor to institutional change. He has welcomed and supported many new institutional leaders, such as deans, in his role as Provost and they will continue on within the institution as it evolves and grows,” says Nilson. “His passion, persistence and perseverance in his role as Provost has been essential to our success, and his impact will influence the institution for years to come.”

 “I’m a builder. I have contributed to creating something special while working at VIU over the past eight years. I think I have created a strong base for a new Provost to come and lead the continued growth of VIU from the Provosts office.  So it’s time to hand it over to someone else,” he says.

VIU graphic design student wins Skills Canada top award

VIU Graphic Design student Joe Thoong (middle) has captured the gold medal in this year’s Skills Canada National Competition in Edmonton. Photo: Skills Canada­

A Vancouver Island University (VIU) student is the nation’s top graphic designer at this year’s Skills Canada National Competition.

First-year Graphic Design student Joe Thoong beat out students from across the country to take the gold medal at the national competition, held June 4 and 5 at the Edmonton EXPO Centre.

“It’s something I’ve wanted for so long and something I have been training hard for, but I don’t think the fact that I’ve won has actually sunk in yet,” he says. “It’s been an exhausting month!”

Skills Canada, founded in 1989 to promote skilled trades and technology careers amongst Canadian youth, hosts the only national multi-trade and technology event of its kind for both high school and post-secondary students and apprentices across the country, states the website. Regional and provincial competitions are held across the country to select the students who participate in nationals.

This is Thoong’s third year competing in Skills Canada competitions, and his second time at the national competition. For the first two years, he competed as a high school student at Georges P. Vanier Secondary School in Courtenay. The first year, he won the silver at provincials, and the second year he won silver at nationals.

“I think I’m a sore loser – I just had to go back and see if I could get the top prize,” he jokes. “I love the adrenaline rush of the competition. When you have only seconds left, it’s weird how much you can get done.”

To increase his chances of winning, Thoong spent 12 hours a week practicing his design work throughout April and May, with Graphic Design Professor Nancy Pagé providing feedback.

“Nancy and I would meet and she would critique my work,” he says. “You have to be versatile because each project you get at nationals is going to be very different in terms of style, medium and tone.”

Thoong completed two very different design projects during the national competition – a logo and packaging design on the first day and magazine cover, back and centre spread on the second. He got interested in graphic design when his high school art teacher Dave Randle introduced him to the industry and encouraged him to enter the Skills Canada competitions.

“I’ve always been a creative kid – I used to always draw and I’ve always been a visual communicator,” says Thoong.

Thoong will head back to Skills Canada nationals in Halifax next year to compete against the silver medal winner in his category from this year for a chance to go with Team Canada to WorldSkills Kazan 2019

Pagé says Thoong’s success reflects well on the program and confirms that faculty are preparing students for success.

“It’s a fantastic addition to his resumé,” she says. “It demonstrates his commitment to the discipline and showcases his efforts in a tangible way. I think any employer seeing his success in this event provides instant credibility and confirms his level of competency within a skills-based discipline.”

For more information, visit the Skills Canada homepage.

Vancouver Island University convocation June 4-6

About 850 Vancouver Island University (VIU) graduates from 55 different programs will walk across the stage on June 4-6 in five Convocation ceremonies.

 Highlights of the ceremonies include the awarding of five honorary degrees to Chief Dr. Robert Joseph, a national leader in reconciliation; Gene Anne Joseph, the first librarian of First Nations descent to get a Master’s of Library Science degree; Wendy Lisogar-Cocchia and Sergio Cocchia, philanthropists and prominent members of the BC business community; and Dr. Michael K. Hawes, CEO of Fulbright Canada, the world’s most prestigious and largest academic exchange program. Each ceremony will also include a valedictorian representing fellow graduates, and seven VIU professors will be recognized with Provost Awards for excellence in teaching design and practice. 

 Convocation will be live-streamed for those who cannot make it to the event in person. For more information, visit VIU’s Convocation webpage.



2:15 pm           Procession of graduates from the Vancouver Island Conference Centre to the

                        Port Theatre

2:50 pm           Presentation of Honorary Doctor of Laws to Chief Dr. Robert Joseph

3 pm                Valedictory address by Nneka Otogbolu, a Master of Business Administration/Master of Science in International Management


3:10 pm           Presentation of graduates from the Faculty of Arts and Humanities, Faculty of Management and Faculty of Social Sciences


TUESDAY, JUNE 5, 10:00 AM 

9:45 am           Procession of graduates from the Vancouver Island Conference Centre to the

                        Port Theatre

10:20 am         Presentation of Honorary Doctorate of Letters to Gene Anne Joseph

10:30 am         Valedictory address by Autumn Anne McIvor, Bachelor of Science in Nursing graduate

10:40 am         Presentation of graduates from the Faculty of Health and Human Services


 2:15 pm           Procession of graduates from the Vancouver Island Conference Centre to the

                        Port Theatre

 3 pm                Valedictory address by Reef Hujaij, Bachelor of Arts, Major in Digital Media Studies graduate

 3:10 pm           Presentation of graduates from the Bachelor of Arts, Faculty of Health and Human Services


9:45 am - Procession of graduates from the Vancouver Island Conference Centre to the

                        Port Theatre

 10:20 am - Presentation of Honorary Doctor of Laws to Sergio Cocchia and Wendy Lisogar-Cocchia

 10:30 am         Valedictory address by Edward Nathanson, Bachelor of Tourism Management graduate

 10:40 am         Presentation of graduates from the Faculty of Management, Faculty of Trades and Applied Technology


 2:15 pm           Procession of graduates from the Vancouver Island Conference Centre to the

                        Port Theatre

 2:50 pm           Presentation of Honorary Doctor of Letters to Dr. Michael K. Hawes

 3 pm                Valedictory address by Samantha Stremecki, Bachelor of Education graduate

 3:10 pm           Presentation of graduates from the Faculty of Education, Faculty of Science and Technology

VIU on short list for international teaching award

For Criminology student Mandii Hopkins, a unique access program at VIU that is allowing her to attend school here is “the light at the end of the tunnel.” Here she is pictured with her sons, Reginald, left, and Kenny Lucas. Photo: Vancouver Island University

May 28, 2018 Vancouver Island University (VIU) is receiving international recognition for its high standard of teaching and learning.

 VIU is a finalist in the Higher Education Academy’s 2018 Global Teaching Excellence Award. Introduced last year in association with Times Higher Education, the award recognizes and celebrates an institution-wide commitment to the pursuit of teaching excellence. VIU is one of 17 finalists shortlisted from applications from more than 40 countries, and one of just two universities in Canada to make the list. 

 The story of Criminology student Mandii Hopkins helps to highlight one of the reasons VIU may have been chosen as a finalist for this prestigious award.

 The 26-year-old single mother of two wanted to go back to school for years, but raising her two boys had taken all of her resources. She tears up when she talks about how VIU found a way for her to get the education she so desperately wants, not only to build a better life for her and her children, but also to raise up others in her community.

 “For me, being here is the light at the end of the tunnel,” says Hopkins, who hopes to go to law school after she finishes her degree so that she can become an advocate for people in her community. “I just want to show myself and those who believe in me that I can do this, and show my sons that they can do it too. Without this program, there’s no way I would be in school right now, I’d be scrambling to find work to get my family through the next month.”

 Last fall, she was offered a scholarship through a unique learning partnership VIU joined that aims to remove barriers for Indigenous youth accessing post-secondary, and provide the wrap-around supports they need to succeed once they are here. The initiative is funded by the Mastercard Foundation and Rideau Hall Foundation, and VIU is partnering with the First Nations communities it serves to co-create the program and determine what supports are needed.

This unique partnership is one of the many access-focused initiatives VIU has pioneered that is earning national and international recognition for the institution. This work likely contributed to the University being nominated for this prestigious award. 

 “Our students and employees have long recognized that the way learning takes place here is special; this accolade lets the rest of the world in on the secret,” says Dr. David Witty, VIU Provost and Vice-President Academic. “VIU’s Academic Plan – Promoting and Celebrating Access to Excellence – provides a solid foundation for everything we do here, from responding to regional needs, to access initiatives that support those struggling to attend post-secondary for financial or other reasons, to offering innovative, experiential learning opportunities for students.”

Besides the learning partnership, which will double the number of Indigenous students pursuing an education at VIU, the University was the first in BC to launch a Tuition Waiver Program for those who have spent time in the foster care system, and actively promotes education savings initiatives like the federal government’s Canada Learning Bond program.

Access initiatives also extend into VIU’s international population, including raising money to bring student refugees from around the world to campus, as well as offering scholarships to international students from disadvantaged backgrounds – key pieces in fostering a global outlook, says Dr. Graham Pike, Dean of International Education.

 VIU’s student body includes more than 2,000 international students from 90 different countries studying at VIU, as well as many opportunities for local students to go on overseas exchanges, field schools, summer intensive programs, co-ops, internships and research with international partners. For example, the University’s participation in the Queen Elizabeth Scholars program and in international development projects has given VIU students the opportunity to travel all over the world, and brought many international scholars to VIU.

 “Part of preparing our students for a changing world is providing these types of international engagement opportunities,” says Pike. “Promoting a two-way exchange of students and faculty is vital to fostering intercultural skills and global connections.”

 What makes teaching and learning at VIU stand out is the passion of faculty and instructors to support students both in and out of the classroom, says Dr. Liesel Knaack, Director of the University’s Centre for Innovation and Excellence in Learning. 

 “It is about more than just teaching excellence here at VIU,” says Knaack. “It is about how we challenge and stretch students beyond the classroom to become independent thinkers. Being shortlisted for this award is a recognition of the diverse supports and rich opportunities available for VIU students across all our programs.”

The winner of the Global Teaching Excellence Award will be revealed in Edinburgh, Scotland, on July 18.


The world comes to Vancouver Island University

Thanh Phuong Nguyen, an international student from Vietnam, tells Pham Manh Hai, Consul General of Vietnam, about VIU. Photo: Vancouver Island University

0517 - Students and employees got the opportunity to showcase Vancouver Island University to more than a dozen representatives from countries around the world this week.

The University partnered with the Mid Island Business Initiative (MIBI) to tour 14 consuls general with offices in Vancouver around the University and mid-Island region on Tuesday, May 15. A consul general serves as a representative of their own country in another country, providing assistance with bureaucratic issues to both the citizens of the consul’s own country travelling or living abroad, and to the citizens of the country in which the consul resides who wish to travel to or trade with the consul’s country. 

The purpose of the visit was to introduce the consuls general to what VIU and the mid-Island have to offer for investors and international students. Each consul general who came on Tuesday was matched up with a student from their home country where possible to tour VIU’s Nanaimo Campus before spending the afternoon at Milner Gardens and Woodland, a public garden in Qualicum Beach owned by the University.

“The goal was to raise awareness about the great work that VIU does for the central Island economy and the exciting opportunities for international students who study here,” says Dr. Graham Pike, Dean of International Education. “International students bring so much to our campus in terms of their cultures, languages and traditions.”

VIU has a diverse student body that includes more than 2,000 international students from more than 90 countries. Pike introduced the consuls general to some of the unique programming and research facilities VIU has, and talked about the supportive, welcoming learning environment that attracts international students to the region.

John Hankins, CEO of MIBI, says the goal of the visit was to raise awareness of the region to the Consulates to enable them to share the opportunities with companies and investors from their respective countries.

“On a global scale, Vancouver is well-known, but the mid-Island is not,” he says. “The consuls general represent their respective countries and having them come over and experience firsthand what we have to offer ensures we are on their radar.”


MIBI was created to introduce new organizations and industries to the advantages of establishing businesses in the mid-Island region. The organization acts as a catalyst, supporting businesses to harness the potential that exists in this area for both business and life opportunities. VIU is a member.


Dr. Ralph Nilson, VIU President and Vice-Chancellor, says the visit was an opportunity to showcase how important international students are to the region.

“Education is key to sustainable prosperity and an important part of this is welcoming international partnerships and international students to foster a global exchange of ideas. The mid-Island is evolving from a resource-based economy to a knowledge-based economy and enhancing opportunities for engagement across the globe is vital to success in this changing world. We also had the opportunity to discuss how VIU engages in learning with Indigenous communities on the West Coast of BC. 

Shreya Sachdeva, a Master of Business Administration student from India, showed Consul-General Abhilasha Joshi around the campus. She’s excited to tell her friends and family that she got to meet the consul general of India, who has invited her to an event she’s organizing for students in Vancouver.

“It was a great opportunity meeting the Consul General of India in Canada, as it’s a matter of pride for me to have represented the Indian student body of VIU in front of the Consul General,” she says. “This visit is great for our marketing and reputation. When students in India learn the consul general visited VIU, I think more students will want to come here.”

Philippe Sutter, Consul General of France in Vancouver, is excited to strengthen relationships with VIU to allow for more exchange opportunities between French students and researchers and West Coast institutions. France has launched a new program encouraging researchers from other countries to travel to France and vice-versa, and he also wants to increase opportunities for student exchanges.


More engineering spaces opened at VIU

0502 - An additional 40 engineering diploma and certificate seats at Vancouver Island University will give more students access to the technical skills needed for good-paying jobs in the booming tech industry.

"There hasn't been any significant investment in tech programming for more than a decade," said Melanie Mark, Minister of Advanced Education, Skills and Training. "Adding more tech spaces at Vancouver Island University is part of our provincial tech-expansion plan that's adding thousands more spaces to give students the skills to succeed, and ensuring that the tech sector is supported with homegrown talent."

Funding of $100,000 will allow Vancouver Island University to develop and implement additional student spaces in the university's fundamentals of engineering certificate, and a new engineering design and practice diploma program.

"B.C.'s tech sector is growing exponentially, and companies in every corner of the province need skilled workers," said Bruce Ralston, Minister of Jobs, Trade and Technology. "These additional seats at Vancouver Island University's engineering programs will help local companies find the talent they need to get their product to market and generate good-paying tech jobs."

"This funding will enable us to train more of our tech talent locally, while helping to support the growth of tech industries on Vancouver Island," said Leonard Krog, MLA for Nanaimo. "Our government's startup funding to expand tech programming will allow Vancouver Island University to add 40 additional student spaces in two enhanced engineering programs."

"To obtain good-paying, 21st-century jobs, people need access to affordable and relevant education," said Doug Routley, MLA for Nanaimo-North Cowichan. "Funding two new engineering programs at Vancouver Island University will open the doors to opportunities in the tech sectors for more students on Vancouver Island."

Spaces for the one-year certificate and the two-year diploma will become available in 2019-20 with 20 spaces, ramping up to 40 spaces in 2020-21. Once the spaces are fully implemented, funding is expected to increase to $400,000 annually.

"VIU would like to thank the provincial government for recognizing the importance of funding regional training that will prepare students for in-demand engineering occupations," said Brian Dick, chair of VIU's engineering, physics and astronomy. "This support will allow us to expand our program to offer students both first- and second-year training, and a choice of whether to continue on to further education, or move into employment in the local tech sector."

The fundamentals of engineering certificate program contains the core, first-year courses in physics, chemistry, engineering design, computer programming, mathematics and communication. Upon successful completion, graduates are qualified to apply for second-year engineering at the University of British Columbia, the University of Victoria, Simon Fraser University and the University of Alberta. 

The new, two-year diploma in engineering design and practice builds upon the certificate, targeting those students who wish to gain employment in the local tech sector, but may not want to continue immediately to a full engineering degree. The diploma provides these students with specific and practical employment skills, with emphasis on the design and fabrication processes.

"Adding an engineering transfer pathway to VIU helps fill an educational void, by allowing students to continue the engineering education they started at VIU, building on what they've learned in the first-year certificate," said VIU engineering transfer student Allan Stenlund. "The second-year diploma allows them to work on more in-depth projects, giving them the opportunity to significantly amplify their capabilities, expanding the scope of their skills and expertise, and their opportunities."

"The engineering expansion is great news for the mid-Island engineering community," said Lee Rowley, principal, Herold Engineering. "Having more opportunity for more engineers and technologists to begin their training locally allows a more affordable start to their careers. It also gives local firms the chance to hire well-trained employees, who are familiar with the career opportunities and lifestyle Vancouver Island provides."

Quick Facts:

* The Province is adding 2,900 tech-related spaces throughout B.C., to produce 1,000 additional tech-grads a year by 2023. This includes tech spaces in a number of niche programs, including the engineering certificate and diploma programs at VIU.

* Over 83,400 tech-related jobs openings are expected by 2027, including jobs like computer programmers, engineers, information system analysts, digital designers and software designers.

* The tech sector is one of the fastest-growing sectors of the B.C. economy, generating approximately $29 billion in revenue a year, and supporting over 106,000 good-paying jobs. B.C.'s tech sector is home to more than 10,200 businesses.

Renovated auto shop helps VIU drive automotive program

Trevor Rea-Stewart, a fourth-year automotive apprentice student, has noticed a huge difference following renovations to the automotive building. Vancouver Island University photo

0418 - An overhaul of Vancouver Island University’s automotive building is intended to drive the program forward.

The renovations are part of the $20-million marine, automotive and trades complex expansion and redevelopment project announced in December 2016 by the federal and provincial governments.

The automotive building renovations include a 225-square-metre addition with a larger tool crib and an apprenticeship lab; a renovated customer service area designed to look like a dealership; a reconfigured shop area that now fits up to 24 vehicles compared to 16 in the former layout; and renovated classroom spaces.

VIU engineering students in design competition

Vancouver Island University (VIU) students Wilson Nguyen, from left, Wesley Dunn, Allan Stenlund and Jennifer White work on their engineering design during last year’s competition. Photo/Vancouver Island University

0410 - First-year-engineering students at Vancouver Island University are building model, moveable structures with Popsicle sticks to test their design skills – and now they want the public to help choose a winner.

In a friendly competition, sponsored by Herold Engineering, Helijet International Inc., and the Engineers and Geoscientists of BC (EGBC), 10 teams from the Engineering Design II class have been creating model structures out of Popsicle sticks, dowels, a variety of sensors and actuators, and an Arduino microcontroller.

 Their creative designs will be on display Friday, April 13 in the Upper Cafeteria, Building 300, at VIU’s Nanaimo Campus from 9 am to 2 pm. The public is invited to stop by and celebrate the achievements of these engineering students and provide feedback on how well they met their design objectives.  

“The students are working on one of three projects:  Two are moveable bridge structures, and the third is a moveable canal structure,” says Brian Dick, Chair of VIU’s Department of Physics, Engineering and Astronomy. “In all three cases, the goal is to build a structure that is autonomous, in other words it must operate on its own without human intervention. The system must control traffic, move the structure deck according to project requirements, accommodate specific stakeholder demands, and be robust enough to support a fixed weight.  A complicating element was that each structure was designed by one team of students, but built by another. During the build, the two teams collaborated to work through any challenges that arose.”

 A number of constraints were presented to students as part of their design, one of which is its aesthetic appeal.

Local engineers, the public, staff, students and faculty at VIU are being asked to rank each of the structures in terms of what design best addresses stakeholder needs, which best displays innovation and practicality, as well as which shows the best reflection of the original design teams' intent. Students will receive marks based on this feedback. Dick’s first-year course is part of the Fundamentals of Engineering Certificate.

 “We’ve been running the program at VIU for a number of years and we typically have around 40 - 45 students each term,” says Dick. 

 Successful completion of this certificate with a minimum required GPA and time of completion qualify students for admission into the second year engineering program at the University of British Columbia (UBC), the University of Victoria (UVic), Simon Fraser University (SFU), or the University of Alberta.  For more details, go to


Refrigeration mechanic program takes training to next level

Josh Dares is in the first cohort of VIU students to complete their Level 3 apprenticeship training through VIU’s Refrigeration Air-Conditioning Mechanic program. He starts a new job this month thanks to having access to the higher level of training. Photo: Vancouver Island University

0404 -A new offering in Vancouver Island University’s (VIU’s) Refrigeration Air-Conditioning Mechanic (RACM) program is saving students thousands of dollars in travel and living costs and leading to better job opportunities. 

The program, which trains students to install, service and troubleshoot all aspects of residential, commercial and industrial heating, ventilation, air-conditioning and refrigeration (HVAC/R) equipment, just began offering Level 3 apprenticeship training for the first time, enabling students who would have had to travel to the Lower Mainland to get this training to stay on the Island and keep working. The University already offers 8.5-month foundation/Level 1 courses to introduce students to the trade, as well as Level 2 training out of the Cowichan Trades Centre.

 What’s significant about offering this higher level of training is the opportunities it opens up for students, not only in terms of a wider range of job opportunities, but also better salaries, says program chair Larry Nohr.



VIU students to hold model United Nations conference

The organizers of VIU MUN 2018 are excited to debate controversial and timely issues with other students from the region on February 9 and 10, 2018. From left to right: Keeley Campbell, Justin North, Elissa Doerksen, Stephanie Pastro, Lauren Rogers, Fahad Al-Shammery, Jacob Gair and Anna Kryvonos. Photo: Vancouver Island University

0131 - Things are about to get very diplomatic in Nanaimo, as Vancouver Island University’s (VIU’s) Model United Nations Club prepares to host its second annual model UN conference February 9-10.

 A Model United Nations, also known as MUN, is an educational experience where students roleplay as delegates to the United Nations and simulate UN committees. Students discuss topics that are relevant to current events from the perspective of the countries they are representing. The conference is open to both university and high school students, and more than 60 students are registered so far.

“It’s a really good learning experience, especially if you’re interested in going into political studies or perhaps one day becoming a politician,” says Elissa Doerksen, Director of Media Marketing and Corporate Relations for the VIU MUN Club. “It not only expands your knowledge on certain countries’ political standpoints, it also helps improve your debating skills. It heightens participants’ awareness about events happening in the world, and teaches how to debate and create solutions to international issues as a team.”

Participants can choose to represent countries at either the General Assembly or Security Council tables. There will also be an International Press Corps charged with representing different media outlets and tasked with interviewing delegates, reporting on the happenings of committees and analyzing conference developments. Participants dress formally and follow clearly outlined rules of procedure.

“Last year, students got really into it and transformed completely into character for the country they were representing,” says Doerksen. “It gave people a good idea about what a real-world UN conference is like.”

 VIU MUN 2018 takes place during Global Citizens Week, an annual week filled with campus events, visiting speakers and classroom dialogues that explore issues of global development at home and abroad. This year the theme of the week is Solidarity in Action, and in honour of this theme, MUN participants will debate topics such as human rights of LGBTQ people, displacement of people due to climate change, prevention of human trafficking, and ending the humanitarian crisis and violence against the Rohingya in Myanmar.

“Not only are these topics controversial, but they are also extremely topical to the society we live in today,” says Stephanie Pastro, Secretary General. “Our organizers have worked tirelessly to ensure a wide variety of topics for delegates to tackle. Model United Nations may not directly change the world but it prepares the leaders of tomorrow, training them to be diplomatic and innovative in the solutions they provide. At VIU MUN 2018 we hope to help delegates recognize their full potential and harness it in a way that furthers the world.” 

The two-day conference will include opening ceremonies, committee sessions and a mock press conference. Each delegate must submit a position paper in advance outlining the foreign policy, opinions and diplomacy of the country on the presented topics. Visit the VIU MUN website to register or learn more.

To learn more about VIU’s Political Studies program, visit the program homepage

Kaitlyn Lafontaine wins prestigious Aboriginal sports award

Kaitlyn Lafontaine, a Vancouver Island University student and Mariners athlete, received the 2017 Premier’s Awards for Aboriginal Youth Excellence in Sport – Interior Region. Photo/Vancouver Island University

0126 - Kaitlyn Lafontaine is a dedicated athlete, a mentor and a Vancouver Island University (VIU) student who dreams of using her education to make a positive impact on Indigenous people in Canada.

Lafontaine, a member of the Métis Nation, recently received the 2017 Premier’s Awards for Aboriginal Youth Excellence in Sport – Interior Region. The recipients must not only be exceptional athletes but also demonstrate a commitment to pursing higher education, leadership qualities, volunteerism and a connection to their culture.

“Kaitlyn is an example of our dedicated Mariners student-athletes who are committed to success not just on the court, or the classroom, but also in the community,” said Stephanie White, VIU’s Director of High Performance Sport, Recreation and Physical Literacy. 

Lafontaine, a guard for the VIU Mariners women’s basketball team, said she was proud to win the Interior region award because even though she has played basketball on Vancouver Island for the past four years it was great to represent her hometown, Kelowna.

“It was a proud moment to represent where I am from and my family name,” she said.

 Winning the regional award automatically serves as a nomination for the Provincial Premier’s Awards for Aboriginal Youth Excellence in Sport Award. The winners will be announced during the Indigenous Youth Sport Leadership Forum held at the Gathering our Voices Youth Conference in Richmond, March 20-23. 

Lafontaine said attending VIU allows her to balance pursing higher education and play basketball.

“She is a veteran on our team and one the younger players look up to for guidance both on and off the court,” said Tony Bryce, Head Mariners Women’s Basketball Coach. “We are going to miss her leadership and toughness next year.”

Lafontaine is currently majoring in First Nations Studies and Criminology at VIU and plans to apply to law school after graduating and study Aboriginal law.

“Education is a huge tool for change. I really want to use my education to give back to my community and make a difference,” said Lafontaine. “School has taught me I am someone who can make those changes.”

On the basketball court Lafontaine balances a combination of adrenaline and calmness. Her awareness is heightened. At any moment she could be in the middle of a play and her reaction needs to be quick, calculated and precise.

“There are a hundred things that go through my head every single play,” she said.

Playing basketball has been a family affair since she was a child. Her grandparents, parents and siblings all play the game. 

“There is literally a baby photo of me holding a basketball when I was two years old, so to say I was born into it isn’t an understatement,” said Lafontaine.

One of the highlights of her basketball career is participating in the North American Indigenous Games (NAIG) in 2014.

“For me it was a huge experience because in that moment my culture overlapped with basketball,” she said, adding the experience motivated her to get her Level 1 and Aboriginal Coaching Certifications. In 2017 she was the assistant coach of the U16 girls team at NAIG in Toronto and currently coaches at École Pauline Haarer Elementary School in Nanaimo.

 Lafontaine said she’s excited that the VIU Mariners are hosting the 2018 PACWEST Basketball Championships March 1-3, where the top women’s and men’s basketball teams will compete for the title and a ticket to the Canadian Collegiate Athletic Association (CCAA) National Championships.

VIU News.

Fighting for justice exhibit bring sto light lesser-told stories

VIU alum Connie Graham, front; VIU Anthropology Professor Dr. Imogene Lim, left; Kathryn Gagnon, Curator/Manager of the Cowichan Valley Museum & Archives, back; and Dr. Tusa Shea, Coordinator of the Arts and Science Programs for the UVic’s Division of Continuing Studies helped create the Fighting for Justice travelling exhibit. Photo/Vancouver Island University

0126 - Wing Hay Young, a popular Port Alberni-born boxer, tried to enlist in the Canadian Army in 1940, during the Second World War.

 He was denied entry based on his ethnicity, prompting his white boxing friends to descend on the enlistment office, refusing to sign up until their friend was accepted. Young, who became one of the first Asian Canadians to enlist, went on to distinguish himself on the battlefield.

For many years, Debra Toporowski could not be a member of the Cowichan Tribes because her mother had married a Chinese Canadian man. Under the Indian Act of 1876, women were forced to give up their status if they married a non-Indigenous person. Today, Toporowski is not only a member of Cowichan Tribes, she is a band councillor. Bill C-31, passed in 1985, amended the Indian Act to prevent this gender-based discrimination following pressure by First Nations women on the government. 

Both stories are part of 150 Years and Counting: Fighting for Justice on the Coast, a travelling banner exhibit developed by Vancouver Island University (VIU), University of Victoria (UVic), and the Cowichan Valley Museum & Archives. The exhibit is one outcome of the project, Asian Canadians on Vancouver Island: Race, Indigeneity and the Transpacific, led by UVic and funded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council.

It was on display in the library at VIU’s Nanaimo Campus until Friday, January 26, and will be displayed at the Cowichan Campus from Monday, January 29 to mid-February. It returns to the Nanaimo Campus library on February 20 until March 5, at which time people can view it at the Campbell River Museum. 

Fighting for Justice personalizes more than 150 years of history from the perspective of First Nations communities, Asian Canadians and their allies, who fought for justice in the face of colonial dispossession and racist exclusions. 

“The point of this exhibit is to tell those stories that haven’t been told and showcase the intersections of these communities,” says Dr. Imogene Lim, a VIU Anthropology Professor, who worked on the exhibit’s concept development alongside Dr. Tusa Shea, Program Coordinator, Arts and Sciences Programs for UVic’s Division of Continuing Studies, and Kathryn Gagnon, Curator and Manager of the Cowichan Valley Museum & Archives.

 The exhibit tells the history through individual stories of Asian Canadians and First Nations on Vancouver Island, and highlights the ties between different groups on the Island. There are several examples of Asian Canadian and Indigenous communities working together, including an Alert Bay grocery store owned by an Asian Canadian family that continued to provide supplies for potlatches in the area after the government ban.

“I’m hoping people gain an awareness of how resilient these communities were and are, how they fought to preserve aspects of their culture that were under threat,” says Shea.

The key point for Gagnon was telling the stories in simple, bite-sized chunks to give people an idea of the history without overwhelming them – and then encouraging them to pursue more information.

“You have to know it happened before you can explore it,” she says.

One VIU student and one VIU alum also had the chance to work on the exhibit. Anthropology student Chantelle Spicer worked on the accompanying resource guide while Connie Graham, an Anthropology and First Nations Studies graduate, coordinated the exhibit and edited the banner text.  

Graham’s favourite part about the exhibit is the emphasis on the diversity of people settling on the Island.

 “People have this idea that Canada was colonized by white Europeans and that’s not necessarily the case,” she says. “There was a lot more diversity in the makeup of the original settlers, but they all weren’t treated equally.”

 To learn more or book the exhibit, email Dr. John Price, UVic History Professor, at

To learn more about VIU’s Anthropology program, visit the program homepage. Visit VIU News.


Encouraging conversations about wellness and self-care

Stephanie White, VIU’s Director of High Performance Sport, Recreation and Physical Literacy, left, and Gemma Armstrong, a VIU Counsellor, are encouraging people to talk about mental health during VIU’s What About Wellness Week, which runs from Monday, January 29 to Friday, February 2. Photo/Vancouver Island University.

0125 - Every one of us has ups and downs in our mental health and mental illness will affect all Canadians either directly or indirectly in their lifetime.

They may experience mental illness themselves or have a family member, friend or colleague who struggles with it. According to the Canadian Mental Health Association, approximately eight per cent of adults will experience major depression at some time in their lives. In any given year, one in five people in Canada will personally experience a mental health problem or illness.

To raise more awareness about mental health and promote student well-being, Vancouver Island University (VIU) is hosting What About Wellness Week, which runs from Monday, January 29 to Friday, February 2 

As part of the events held during What About Wellness Week, the VIU Mariners men’s and women’s basketball teams are participating in Make Some Noise for Mental Health Day. Make Some Noise is a Canadian Collegiate Athletic Association (CCAA) initiative which supports campaigns that raise mental health awareness, encourage open mindedness and promotion of resources and support on campuses and in the community. It also encourages CCAA members to participate in Bell Let’s Talk Day, which is Wednesday, January 31.

“It’s a very important event that athletic departments across the country participate in,” said Stephanie White, VIU’s Director of High Performance Sport, Recreation and Physical Literacy. “It’s important for us to be a loud voice in the discussion about mental health on university campuses.”

Mariners are inviting fans to bring noisemakers to the matches against Quest U Kermodes on February 2 and get loud. The loudest will win pizza. The women play at 6 pm and the men’s game begins at 8 pm.

White said making noise will not only let fans show their support for Mariners athletes but also is a mechanism to reduce the silence around mental health issues and let people know there are supports available.

 “It is something everyone pretty much goes through at some point in their life. We have to recognize it,” she said. “It doesn’t diminish who we are as people.”

 Activities are planned throughout What About Wellness Week on VIU’s Nanaimo campus. Gemma Armstrong, a VIU Counsellor, said VIU hopes to provide opportunities for connection and open conversations, and encourage students to reflect and learn about their mental health.

 “We want students to know that they can take charge of their mental health by building awareness and developing skills and supports,” she said. “I like to imagine that when we ask each other “how are you?” that we can be real with each other whether we are struggling or flourishing.”

 Activities include a Wellness Day at Shq’apthut – Natural Spiritual Healing, free coffee and stress relief activities hosted by the VIU Students’ Union, a Stitch and Bitch and more. For Bell Let’s Talk Day students and VIU community members are invited to the Upper Cafeteria to play games, destress and learn about supports available.

 During What About Wellness Week VIU Counselling Services is also asking students to fill out a survey about health and wellness events and programs on campus. The information will be used to help strengthen existing counselling programs and determine what other ways the University can engage students in health and wellness activities.

 VIU News.

Peer Support navigator removes barriers for students

Ruby Barclay is ensuring students who have spent time in the foster care system get what they need to succeed in school as Vancouver Island University’s first Peer Support Navigator for the Tuition Waiver Program. Photo / Vancouver Island University

0214 - Vancouver Island University’s new Peer Support Navigator for the Tuition Waiver Program for former youth in care is ensuring fewer of the University’s most vulnerable students fall through the cracks.

 More than 80 students who have spent time in BC’s foster care system accessed the Tuition Waiver Program at VIU this year. While the program ensures their tuition is paid for, many of these students have other needs that must be met for them to succeed once they are enrolled. That’s why Ruby Barclay, a fourth-year student in the Child and Youth Care program, was hired as Peer Support Navigator for the program last May. Her job is to advocate for students in the program and help them get what they need to be successful in school. To her knowledge, her position is unique in the province.

“My role is to act as a bridge to services,” says Barclay. “I host social gatherings once a month for students to connect through casual conversations. I also listen to their needs or help them identify barriers to being successful in school, and host workshops for them on topics like time management or setting boundaries in relationships. Students come with unique challenges as a result of in-care experiences, and need support moving forward and navigating post-secondary. We have seen an increase in students accessing services and we’ve seen less students fall through the cracks because of this position.”

Barclay’s week varies based on the needs of the students. For example, one day she might be in business dress advocating for a new support in front of VIU’s Board of Governors; the next day she’s meeting with a student to find them housing and hosting a social gathering. Through this role, Barclay has been an advisor to the Provincial Tuition Waiver Program; she works with different levels of government to address the root cause of barriers for students; and she’s a mentor on the Nanaimo Aboriginal Centre’s Youth Advisory Council. Just before Christmas, she raised funds to make 46 self-care packages that she hand-delivered to students.

Barclay has a better understanding of the unique needs of students in the Tuition Waiver Program because she is accessing the program herself.

“I know the kind of weight and stereotypes that come along with the label of youth in care,” she says. “One important aspect of my job is modelling and fostering a space for students to build their identity outside of being a youth in care. I am modelling for them the impact of being socially connected, successful in school and pursuing what I am passionate about. Nearly 30 students have graduated from the program so far – it’s about replicating how I and these other students have been successful.”

Barclay also connects with people who want to enter the program to help them with the process. For some students, small acts like helping them fill out an application form can help launch them in a new direction in life, she says. 

“I love watching students come out of their shells – just seeing them take charge and start to figure out what they need to do is so rewarding,” she says 

Barclay started connecting with her peers in September 2016 as part of a practicum placement she designed for herself with the University’s blessing. As the impact of her work started to become apparent, she caught the attention of University administrators, including William Litchfield, Associate Vice-President of University Relations, who created a paid position.

“She saw an opportunity where a voice needed to be elevated,” he says. “Since she started her work, I’ve seen a big change in many students accessing the Tuition Waiver Program – they are more confident, they are integrating more in the University community, and engaging with others more. At the end of the day, we want them to be students. Ruby is aware of needs these students have that we don’t know about and she’s done a good job of advocating for students and getting them what they need.”

Thanks to the Mid-Island Chapter of the 100+ Women Who Care, which donated more than $13,000 to the VIU Foundation, the institution will be able to hire a second Peer Support Navigator. 

Students do not need to have aged out of the foster care system to be eligible for VIU’s Tuition Waiver Program – the only requirement is that they have spent 12 cumulative months in the system. To learn more, visit the Tuition Waiver Program homepage or email

Syrian refugees find welcoming atmosphere at VIU Cowichan

Fanar Sheikh Zein, holding daughter Ariana, and Baraa Mohammed, Syrian refugees who arrived in Canada last March, are finding a welcoming community at VIU Cowichan. /Vancouver Island University photo

0119 - A Syrian couple who spent four years living at a residential complex for refugees in northern Iraq are finding a welcoming new community at Vancouver Island University’s (VIU’s) Cowichan Campus.

 Baraa Mohammed and Fanar Sheikh Zein, Kurdish Syrians from Qamishli, in the northern part of the country, came to Canada looking for a better life for their daughter, Ariana, who was born shortly after they arrived here. 

“We came for her,” says Mohammed. “We didn’t want her to go through what we went through and see what we’ve seen.”

Sheikh Zein is taking English and Math classes at VIU Cowichan and hopes to get recertified to work as a physiotherapist in Canada. Mohammed is taking an online English course and hopes to get back on track to finishing her Bachelor of Arts degree, which was put on hold once she became a refugee. She’d like to work in financial services or human resources.

Both Sheikh Zein and Mohammed are grateful about the degree of support and acceptance they’ve received at VIU.


For more about the Cowichan Inter-cultural Society’s sponsorship efforts, visit the program homepage. To learn more about upgrading courses at VIU Cowichan, visit the Adult Basic Education homepage.

VIU Magazine now available online

VIU Photo

The latest edition of VIU Magazine is now available online. It features faculty and student research on microplastics; a look inside the Applied Environmental Research Laboratories’ new mobile lab – the Mass Specmobile; an interview with VIU President Dr. Ralph Nilson on his vision for the future of the region and what part VIU plays in creating that future; and a feature on two student poets who are already earning a name for themselves. It also features a history of Indigenous education initiatives at VIU; an explanation of how the District Geo-Exchange Energy System works; and alumni success stories.


VIU holding International Disabilities Day

1128  - Vancouver Island University is host to its sixth annual International Day of Persons with Disabilities on Thursday, 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. in the main cafeteria (Bldg 300). It is the largest community event of its kind in the mid-Island with 25 different advocacy and community groups attending.  

This year’s theme, Transformation Toward Sustainable and Resilient Society for All, shines a spotlight on universal access, and what living in a truly accessible place means. Each year, VIU Disability Services hosts a fun activity to increase awareness for people living with disabilities, with the goal of building a more accessible and accepting society. This year’s event is an Artists’ Corner, which will feature four artists throughout the day.

People with or without disabilities are encouraged to attend and learn more about services available in Nanaimo. Participating community groups include Nanaimo Brain Injury Society, Nanaimo Special Olympics, Nanaimo Nitro Power Soccer, Nanaimo Association of Community Living, Nanaimo Mental Health and Substance Use Treatment Services, No Obstacles for Vision Impaired (NOVI), Nanaimo Multiple Sclerosis Society and many more.  

To learn more about this United Nations initiative, click here.

University community targets gender-based violence

1127 - Vancouver Island University (VIU) students’ Union (VIUSU), the VIU Faculty Association and ResTide are spearheading 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence events during the United Nations international campaign, which VIU is honoured to be a part of.

16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence begins Saturday, November 25 on the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women and runs until International Human Rights Day on December 10. The campaign originated in 1991 at the first Women’s Global Leadership Institute coordinated by the Center for Women’s Global Leadership.

 Throughout the 16 Days of Activism campaign, videos featuring various members of the VIU community and anti-violence messages will be shared through social media.

 Events held on VIU’s Nanaimo campus include:

  • November 27 – December 8: The Clothesline Project, held in collaboration with Haven Society, invites people to write and hang messages against violence in the Upper Quad. The community clothesline engagement event is November 29 from 11:30 am to 1 pm;
  • November 29 – December 1: The Thrive Drive, held at VIUSU’s office, is raising money and collecting much-needed items for the Nanaimo Women’s Centre;
  • December 6: A vigil at the VIU Memorial for the women killed at École Polytechnique on the National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence Against Women starts at 2:30 pm;
  • December 6: Stitch ‘N’ Bitch feminist embroidery gathering from 3 – 6 pm at Building 355, Room 211;
  •     November 25 – December 10: Honouring the Lives of Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls Red Ribbon Project, held throughout the 16 Days. People asked to tie a red ribbon on the staircase railings between the campus rainbow stairs and the Kwulasulwut Garden.

Kenyan college delegation tours VIU trades program

Haron Asiago, Industrial Liaison Officer with Kisii National Polytechnic, checks out the tools being used by VIU Carpentry students Natalie Speirs, left and Karly Atkinson during a whirlwind tour of the Nanaimo Campus’s trades programs. Photo/ Vancouver Island University

1123 - Faculty and staff from Kisii National Polytechnic in western Kenya got a whirlwind tour of Vancouver Island University’s trades programs last week. 

Five faculty and staff members from Kisii spent a week observing various VIU trades programs. The delegation was here as part of a partnership between the two institutions to develop a more hands-on curriculum for Kisii’s building trades programs that is better-aligned with industry needs.

“We want to develop a curriculum that can be flexible so it matches the requirements of the building industry,” explains Athanas Mokaya, Principal of Kisii National Polytechnic. “The youth unemployment rate is high, and at the same time it is a struggle to find skilled tradespeople in a number of areas. We need a lot more industry input to ensure the training matches the needs.”

The middle class in Kenya is growing and there’s a strong demand for new housing, he added.

Peter Nyaribo, head of Kisii’s Building and Civil Engineering Department, was taking close inventory of the equipment available to VIU students. Kisii’s building trades programs include certificates in carpentry, plumbing and masonry, and diplomas in building technology and civil engineering. He plans to lobby for better equipment for his own workshops, as they currently use mainly hand tools.

“If we have this kind of equipment, our students will be better prepared to go out and work,” he says.

Deanna Littlejohn, an Instructor in VIU’s Electrical Program, says even if students end up getting work with an employer that still uses mainly hand tools, if they have experiences with power tools, they will be able to advocate for more efficient equipment on the work site, improving industry standards from the bottom up. 

While at VIU, the Kenyan delegation also learned about applied research and interactive teaching approaches from VIU faculty members in Trades and Engineering. The group also spent time with the University’s Centre for Innovation and Excellence in Learning, attended a program advisory committee meeting for the automotive department to see how the University interacts with industry, and met with the University’s Planning and Analysis office to determine how to test whether programs are meeting industry requirements.

Aside from creating a more hands-on curriculum that better meets the building industry’s needs, another area of focus is on increasing the number of women entering the trades.

“We struggle with that in Canada as well, so we’ll be working together on strategies that benefit both institutions,” says Darrell Harvey, International Projects Coordinator. “There’s tons of two-way learning happening.”

The visit was part of a three-year, $1.67-million partnership through the Kenya Education for Employment Program (KEFEP), an initiative of Colleges and Institutions Canada (CICan) funded by Global Affairs Canada. VIU is working in consortium with Humber College, Durham College and Selkirk College to develop and enhance training programs in mechanical engineering, renewable energy and building technology at three Kenyan colleges.

A team from VIU went to Kenya last June to lay the groundwork for the work ahead. Before coming to VIU, the Kenyan delegation spent a week learning about leadership and change management, gender mainstreaming and environmental sustainability with VIU’s partner, Durham College.

Over the next year, VIU and Kisii faculty will work together on curriculum development and equipment acquisition. After that, the partners start training Kisii faculty and staff in hands-on, practical teaching techniques, and how to use the new equipment.

To view VIU news online, visit VIU News

Giving Tuesday campaign has a $150,000 target

On Tuesday, November 28, all the money you spend on food in the Vancouver Island University Students’ Union Pub will go towards scholarships and bursaries through the University’s Giving Tuesday campaign. Jesse Bixby, left, Janelle Wilson and Austyn Lorimer show off one popular menu item. /Vancouver Island University photo

1119 - Students, staff and faculty at Vancouver Island University (VIU), as well as the University’s community supporters, are banding together to make a difference in the lives of students on Giving Tuesday. 


Giving Tuesday is a global movement for giving that falls on the Tuesday following Black Friday and Cyber Monday. On this day, people are invited to get together to raise money and awareness about favourite causes and think about others.


During VIU’s fourth annual Giving Tuesday campaign on Tuesday, November 28, all friends of the University are invited to donate to the VIU Foundation as part of the campaign. VIU aims to raise $150,000 to support students.


“If you’ve been thinking about making a difference in the life of a student at VIU, this is a good day to do it,” says David Forrester, VIU Advancement Manager. “You can choose where you want your money to go. You can donate – or create – a specific scholarship or award, or funnel the donation to a particular faculty or program you’re passionate about. You can also give to the Inspiration Fund, which supports the areas of greatest need.”

Complaint filed over inaction on student's sex fetish

1117 - The former director of human rights at Vancouver Island University has filed a harassment complaint against the school, alleging it failed to act after a student imposed his sexual fetish on non-consenting women.

Katrin Roth filed the complaint with B.C.'s Human Rights Tribunal, claiming VIU did nothing to protect students and employees from a male student in his 40s who has what she believes to be paraphilic infantilism.

It's a sexual fetish described as having the desire to role-play as an infant, including wearing diapers or drinking from a bottle.


Addictions studies program at VIU launches rewarding careers

VIU Psychology Professor Dr. Elliott Marchant started the Addictions Studies program because he wanted to teach students that addiction is not a simple problem that can be explained by one theory. Come out to an info session about the program, as well as VIU's harm reduction forum, on November 15. Photo: Vancouver Island University

1110 - Meg Hansell loves helping people turn their lives around.

The Vancouver Island University (VIU) alum graduated in the spring with an Addiction Studies Certificate and a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology and was immediately hired at Edgewood Treatment Centre. 

“I love helping people fundamentally change their lives,” says Hansell, a Junior Counsellor at Edgewood. “They enter treatment in a hopeless place, and they leave with the ability to live full and productive lives – free from substance abuse. It’s just such an amazing transformation to watch. It’s not easy work, but it’s certainly rewarding.”

Hansell says VIU’s Addictions Studies Certificate helped her get the job she has now. Developed by Psychology Professor Dr. Elliott Marchant, the program is intended to be taken as part of a degree or to supplement a degree. It can be tailored by students to fit into their primary area of interest, such as counselling or police and social work. Students choose from a collection of courses in eight different departments that offer a variety of perspectives on addiction.

 “The combination of courses gives you a deep understanding of the neurobiological basis of addiction as well as the social aspect,” she says. “You finish the program more prepared and able to interact with people with addiction.”

 Another aspect of the program Hansell found helpful is that Marchant brings in a variety of guest speakers working in the field, including representatives from Edgewood. Talking to people working in the industry helps students gain a broader understanding of where they best fit. 

 After working in the field for a while, Hansell plans to go back to graduate school and her ultimate goal is to one day run her own research centre.

 “We’re still uncovering how addiction works in the brain, it’s one of those unresolved areas,” she says. “You ask someone what addiction is and there’s no real concrete answer to that question. We don’t understand this concept fully, and that sparks my interest.”

 The Addictions Studies Certificate has been available for just over a year, and the first graduates crossed the stage last June. Marchant says he started the program because he wanted to teach students that addiction is not a simple problem that can be explained by one theory.  

 “There isn’t another program like it in Western Canada,” he says. “It’s a theoretical certificate – I’m not trying to train clinicians, I’m trying to train people to think about the bigger picture.”

Students from various programs are enrolled, including psychology, criminology, sociology, child and youth care, and education.

“The program includes a huge amount of cross-facilitation between departments and students choose courses based on their area of interest and how it interacts with addictions – the current fentanyl crisis is not solvable by one approach,” says Marchant.  

As part of National Addictions Awareness Week, Marchant is organizing an information session on Wednesday, November 15 from 7 – 8 pm in Building 180, Room 134 on VIU’s Nanaimo Campus. Anyone who wants to know more about his program is welcome to attend.

 His information session takes place right after VIU’s Harm Reduction Forum called Risky Business: Staying Safe & Substance Use. The forum runs from 5:30 – 6:30 pm in the same room as Marchant’s info session and is meant to provide a platform for dialogue about the opioid overdose crisis in Nanaimo.

The forum will include representatives from the RCMP, Discovery Youth & Family Services, Island Health and VIU’s Health and Wellness Clinic. It will be followed by a resources fair, naloxone training and pizza from 6:30 – 7:30 pm.

Renowned poet Fred Wah comes to VIU

Fred Wah

171019 - From rivers and creeks to the wide expanse of the Pacific Ocean, Fred Wah’s poetry is immersed in water.

The BC poet, who is best known for founding the influential literary magazine TISH in the early 1960s, winning the Governor General’s Award for poetry in 1985 and a stint as Canada’s Parliamentary Poet Laureate in 2011; has been writing about water all his life without realizing it.

 Wah is excited to share this passion with Nanaimo as Vancouver Island University’s (VIU’s) Ralph Gustafson Distinguished Poet for 2017. As the Gustafson poet, he will participate in three events, including a free reading and a lecture that are both open to the public on October 25 and 26. At these events, he will share how his preoccupation with water recently spilled into a larger project – a poem about the Columbia River written in collaboration with Vancouver poet Rita Wong that is “as long as the river.”



VIU students will national award for work on MBA Games

Vancouver Island University photo

171016 - Members of the VIU MBA Games competing team proudly display the Queen’s Cup, given to the event’s overall winner. From left: Gurleen Kaur, Navin Yadav, Nneka Otogbolu, Hailey Millet and Adtya Kumar. Otogbolu also won the CBIE Elizabeth Paterson award, along with three other VIU MBA students, who were on the National MBA Games organizing committee when the Games were at VIU. 

Learn more about VIU’s Graduate programs here.

VIU unveils unique mobile mass spectrometry lab

Vancouver Island University (VIU) is unveiling a world-class research vehicle, the Mobile Mass Spectrometry Lab equipped with state-of-the-art instruments, during an official opening event. A brief announcement will be followed by a demonstration of the mobile lab in action.

 The Mobile Mass Spectrometry Lab, a.k.a. the Mass Specmobile, is unique in Canada and allows scientists to conduct leading-edge research related to air and water quality. The high-tech innovations include the ability to continuously measure trace level contaminants from a moving vehicle and on-site in real-time. In addition to providing excellent research training opportunities for students, this new facility gives researchers the ability to quickly identify, measure and track the movements of contaminants and provide information crucial to the protection of human and environmental health.

 The Mobile Mass Spectrometry Lab and its equipment was developed at VIU by Dr. Erik Krogh and Dr. Chris Gill, co-directors of VIU’s Applied Environmental Research Laboratories (AERL), and VIU students thanks to a $1-million investment from the Canada Foundation for Innovation and BC Knowledge Development Fund.

VIU online auction will help students

Whether you like golfing, skiing, hockey or fine dining, VIU’s Online Auction has a package for you to bid on, as David Forrester, VIU Advancement Manager, demonstrates. All proceeds support students in financial need. Photo: Vancouver Island University

171012 - Finding the money to pay for important things like textbooks, childcare and essential learning equipment like a laptop computer can be hard when you’re going to university. 

Vancouver Island University’s (VIU’s) Online Auction aims to help. Every year, local businesses donate prizes that people can bid on, with all proceeds going to student awards, equipment and learning opportunities. This year, prizes have been grouped into experience packages with themes ranging from travel, spa and golf getaways, to dining experiences and even a tattoo package.

 The bidding starts Thursday, October 19 at 9 am and closes Thursday, October 26 at 9 pm.

 “What’s nice about the Online Auction is there’s something for everyone in the prize packages, whether you like to travel, enjoy the outdoors, shop or do things with your family,” says David Forrester, VIU Advancement Manager. “Lots of our regular bidders like the fact that 100 per cent of the proceeds go towards supporting students in need - so they’re getting something they really want and helping others at the same time. Plus, with the holidays coming up, it’s a great opportunity to get a head start on your shopping.”

To learn more or bid on items, visit This link will be live Oct. 19.

Red Seal standard available for VIU hairdressing students

Hairdressing Foundations Program alum Gabrielle Mayor plans to return to VIU to complete her Red Seal certification in the next two or three years. Photo Credit: Vancouver Island University

1011 - Vancouver Island University (VIU) Hairdressing student Gabrielle Mayor loves everything about her chosen trade, from cutting and colouring hair to creating elaborate up-styles.

 It’s a creative trade where she’s always learning something new, constantly reading up on the latest trends to stay relevant and building close relationships with people so she can meet their needs. But until this year, Mayor felt that people didn’t always take hairdressing seriously as a trade.

 Starting this year, students entering VIU’s Hairdressing program will be eligible for Red Seal endorsement - standardized training that’s recognized across Canada. The change has meant that the Hairdressing program at VIU is now a two-level program with a standardized exam and assessment at the end.